I'm lucky. Very lucky,. Every now and then I get to act out my brewing fantasies in a real brewery, in the company of real brewers. In February I had the chance of a day at Fullers again, brewing the second beer of the Past Masters Series, BS. Or as it's called on the label Double Stout.
The day didn't start well. The tube was buggered at Southwark and I had to walk to Waterloo. Great. The unscheduled stroll put me behind schedule.
At least it wasn't raining this time. I've been soaked a few times walking from the tube station. I sense the brewery before I see it: noise and the enticing aroma of malt mashing.
I go straight into the tasting panel with the brewers. A bit intimidating, but an interesting process.We try several samples from different batches of a couple of different beers.
We taste cask, canned, kegged and bottled London Pride. Porter. One was bitterer (35 IBU) than usual because it was parti-gyled with Golden Pride. I wouldn't have noticed.
In the brewing office I get a chance to look at the brewing book. The BS log for the new brew. Derek shows me an envelope that was being used as a bookmark in the log. It was addressed to a Mr. S.... He said the surname was the same as a brewer he had known in his days at Truman. He'd been from a brewing family so it could have been his grandfather to whom the letter was addressed.
Next to be tasted is No. 3 invert sugar. There's dark fruit, dates, caramel, raisins. It's as dark as I'd expected. But more flavourful. Why has brewing sugar gone out of fashion? "It's not sexy," Derek says. It is to me.
John Keeling arrives and asks what the next Past Masters should be. I say "OBE" straight away. AK would have been first, but it wouldn't work as a bottled beer. Brendan can remember brewing OBE before it was discontinued in 1969. Replaced by Winter Ale, which was so popular it became a year-round brew. Winter Ale was sort of seasonal-specific so they had to come with a new name. They went for Extra Special Bitter. Maybe a 1930's recipe. Or one for a significant date. Like England's World Cup victory in 1966. But they didn't brew that day. It was a Saturday.
I remember it well. We were at our caravan in Mablethorpe. We'd no TV. I'd only seen a couple of England's group matches. The rest had been on the radio.
We were still radio-limited in Mablethorpe when the game kicked off. Germany scored. England equalised. Dad decided we should drive home to catch the end of the game. England took the lead on the way. We were just in time to watch the nerve-wracking last ten minutes. It didn't surprise me when Germany equalised form a late free kick. Inevitable.
Watneys. They had a special World Cup beer. I've seen a label. I wonder if it was any good? What am I thinking? It's bound to have been crap.
In the brewhouse, I get to make the mouse click that kicks everything off. It's ludicrously exciting.
Lunch is in the Mawson Arms with Derek Prentice. He tells me more fascinating stuff about brewing at Trumans. I really should be recording him.
Brendan takes the temperature manually with the stick. It looks a bit low. But it took forever to wipe all the grains off. They still look at the consistency of the mash and judge it by eye. You can see grains of a few different shades. We taste some grains: pretty bitter and quite roasty.
We taste the first wort. Much less bitter than just the grains. But we'd tasted them right at the start of conversion.
I watch the sugar being pumped up through what the computer calls "honey". It's sugar syrup, but because it arrives late, it hadn't warmed enough to flow quickly. They use a jacket to warm the plastic sugar containers. It takes longer than usual to charge.
John Keeling takes me up on the roof. Copper 1 of LP is boiling and there is a wonderful smell. I explain that I remember it from my youth in Newark. "The BS will smell great, if it's anything like the Porter. Like coffee."
I sit in the control room, watching the copper slowly charge. 300 hl is the aim.Then it's my turn to work again. I start adding hops before all sugar in. The gravity is a bit low - 1064 instead of 1071. But not all sugar is in. The aim is 1075, post-boil.
Putting the hops in. It's sad (in both senses) and worrying how much that pleases me. Some tiny, tiny, physical contribution to a beer that hopefully thousands will enjoy. Maybe taking pleasure in that isn't so crazy. However small a part I played.
I walk back to the tube, BS is boiling. Fumes of coffee and hops wrap around me like a warm, comforting cloak. Happy, happy, joy, joy. That's how I feel. Happiness so profound that mere words can't do it justice.
I'm drinking a Past Masters XX right now. The bitterness. I put that in.
The Spontaneous Files: Solera Brewery - I finish up my discussion of spontaneous fermentation with Solera Brewery, which sits on the hem of Mount Hood as it spreads out toward the Columbia Gorge....
1 hour ago